We are in the lingering afterward of the NICU. It will be a long long time before we see the other side, if ever. We don’t know, of course, how much of his behavior can be attributed to his early birth, but we feel fairly certain the physical side of it is related. He’s still small. He’s gradually approaching the third anniversary of his due date, still about four week away. He has been three years old for three months, yet many of his pants still say 12-18 on the tag. He is 36 inches tall now which is solidly in the 2T range, but it’s more upper than lower. His doctors give us the percentiles, none of which lasts a moment in my brain because to even imply there is something imperfect about him, even his rate of development, sits so askew to all of my logic that I want to scream it out, HE IS PERFECT. HE IS PERFECT, DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND.
He is not potty trained yet, nor have we even tried. He has not learned to tell us when he needs a diaper change, except for the rare occasion when the mood suits him and he pulls down his own pants. He knows things, he has knowledge, he knows very well when his diaper is dirty and he needs a change. But his moods currently dictate all, and most of the time he is in no mood to cease what he is currently engaged in in favor of having his asshole wiped with a moist towelette. In this sense, he is every day of his three years, if not older. His emotional intelligence is high. He knows what he likes, he knows how to have fun, how to make himself feel better by seeking out a favorite activity, by singing along with his favorite songs at the top of his lungs and with no strenuous attention to pitch. He sees emotions of others, reads them, makes calculations. Today as I was dropping him off we passed a mother festooned in her own tears and being comforted by a staff member after presumably dropping off her little one for the first time. When we got to Alex’s classroom, there were two toddlers right by the door, clearly just starting to recover from their own crying jags. Alex had been fine coming into the building, but got a little tense as we passed the crying woman. I dropped him off with his teacher at the classroom door. He hesitated, not wanting me to leave, which he’s been pretty good at, trusting me to come back for him when his day is done, but today he kept wanting me to take his water bottle back, which I think to him would mean I would then have to pick him up again. But I said goodbye and then through the window watched him come into the room and see the wet cheeks of the two little girls just inside. This froze him in his tracks. His teacher knelt beside him and seemed to give him some encouraging words, and he weighed his emotional options, whether to share in the sadness or to trust in his teacher’s disposition which was insisting that things were all good, under control. Though I couldn’t see his face, I think the sadness was starting to win because the teacher picked him up, and I fled before he could see me still standing there, just out of reach.
Which is not to say his language isn’t developing, because first of all his collection of words is enormous. He is understanding that words have concepts associated with them and he is stockpiling nouns and some adjectives and a couple few verbs, but he has not yet grasped why words have meaning. That we use them to communicate our wants and ideas, that that is the whole point. He can sight-read a lot of the words that show up most frequently in his books, and he tries to sound out words he doesn’t know. He actually has a great affinity for language, with such a purity as I can only imagine comes from loving something without any designs on what usefulness it may have—indeed, it could not be so pure if he did understand why we long ago started to bend our noises into recognizable shapes and patterns. It’s all music to him.
Well, not all, not anymore. He is learning. His functional use of language is slowly developing. I’ve a speech pathologist in my immediately family, and his mother has one in hers, and both of them seem pretty jazzed about helping him start to appreciate language for what it can do for him, on top of the simple melodious pleasure inherent to phonemes and syllables.
How much of this is still an extended part of the NICU journey? I can’t say, but it makes sense to me to think that he started hearing things more clearly at a much earlier age than most people do, the fluid freed from his earflaps before they had the cartilage to stand on their own merits. The world was singing to him well before any sort of language faculties would’ve begun to develop. Why would this not have a direct effect on his language acquisition? But because it isn’t the standard, because it isn’t the norm—I’m trying not to be less than grateful, because he could use the help, the attention devoted, it will benefit him to have therapy. But still. To qualify for said therapy, he has to be judged, and scored, and graded, all of his behaviors evaluated on a scale of one to normal, a test weighted against him because it’s based on age, on time alive in the un-wet world. He has been three years old for a quarter of a year already, and still if he had been born today instead he would’ve been a month early, which itself luckier parents couldn’t begin contemplate. Omg, we might’ve had to spend a few days in the NICU if so, maybe even a week, shut the fuck up. I always want to defend him. I probably always will want to. I have to bite my tongue to keep from reminding them of the circumstances of his birth every time the therapists switch to their bad-news voices, so carefully crafted I imagine they must’ve practiced them at home in front of a mirror. He’s in this scoring range here, and we expect results up here. Okay but first of all I don’t think you’re giving him enough credit because he does do something sort of like what you’re looking for in this particular situation, he’s just not going to do that exact thing right now, in this weird setting, in this situation, on demand, on command, and second HE WAS BORN FOUR MONTHS EARLY DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW FRACTIONS WORK HOW CLOSE FOUR OUT OF NINE IS TO FIFTY PERCENT HE HAD BUT HALF THE TIME DUE TO HIM INSIDE HIS DEAR DEAR MOMMY HALF SO CAN YOU PLEASE CUT HIM A BREAK AND BE PATIENT AND JUST GIVE HIM A LITTLE LONGER TO SHOW YOU WHAT MIRACLES HE’S CAPABLE OF.
Do you not even know perfect when you see it.